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War Machine: The Ballad of College Baseball’s Best Pitcher, Paul Skenes

You will never see another pitcher as good as Skenes on the mound at Alex Box Stadium ever again.

There are probably a million things you could say about LSU pitcher Paul Skenes, but one thing is for certain: he’s a warrior.

Skenes has been arguably the best pitcher in college baseball this season. Skenes has a 1.77 ERA and leads the nation in strikeouts with 164 and is only 38 strikeouts away from breaking Ben McDonald’s single season record of 202. He also averages 17.03 strikeouts per nine innings, which also leads the nation.

After Skenes and LSU shut out Texas A&M 9-0 in College Station on March 17, Texas A&M head coach Jim Schlossnagle had nothing but great things to say about Skenes during his post-game press conference.

“I’ve been doing this for 33 years and Stephen Strasburg, Mark Prior and Paul Skenes are the best I’ve ever seen,” Schlossnagle said. He’s pitching in the wrong league, I’ll tell you that. He needs to be in the American or National League.”

What makes Skenes so deadly isn’t his 100 mph fastballs or his 6’8, 240-pound frame. It’s the fact that he carries himself like a combat soldier who is at war with the enemy.

The reason why he carries himself like a soldier is that he played baseball for the Air Force Academy before transferring to LSU. Skenes had wanted to join the military from a young age due to being from a military family as three of his uncles served in the armed forces. His uncles Mike and Pete served in the Navy. Another uncle, Dan, served in the U.S. Coast Guard.

For Skenes, a regular day at the academy starts at 6:30 a.m. with a wake-up call for the morning formation to march to breakfast. The cadet would then go to class until 11:30 a.m. followed by baseball practice at 2 p.m. and a weightlifting session at 5 p.m. Skenes had an hour to clean up and eat dinner from 7-8 p.m. before he had to do homework. He also had to take a boxing class.

“I was terrible,” Skenes said. “Because it was by weight class, I had to go up with the two other heaviest kids in my class. They were both offensive linemen and they weren’t boxers, they were fighters. Compared to them, I wasn’t very good.”

However, Skenes wasn’t your typical cadet. Skenes was a two-time All-American at Air Force and was the Mountain West Conference Co-Pitcher of the Year.

Skenes’ first appearance on the mound as a pitcher ironically came against LSU on February 21, 2021. Skenes, who was then a freshman, was brought in to close the game. SKenes won the game for the Falcons, picking up two strikeouts in the inning to earn the first save of his career. However, he gave up a solo home run to his future teammate Dylan Crews, who was a freshman as well.

Skenes is a military guy through and through. However, he started to realize by his sophomore year that he was going to be drafted into the MLB and had the chance to play baseball at the highest level.

However, to do this, he would have to transfer out of the Air Force Academy because if he stayed for his junior year, he would have to follow through with his four-year commitment to serve in the Air Force. This would hinder his chance to play baseball at the professional level.

He had to choose: chase his lifelong dream of flying F-19s or pursue a baseball career that he never thought he would get and have the chance to make millions. He chose the latter and came to LSU, one of the premier college baseball teams in the country.

“It was the easiest decision in my life to go to the Academy and the hardest decision of my life to leave,” Skenes said. “I entered the portal because I realized last year that I had a real shot at having a career in baseball. It wasn’t a thought that I had pretty much before my freshman year.”

However, Skenes still contributes to his time in the military in a different way. Skenes donates $10 of his NIL money for every strikeout to Folds of Honor, a nonprofit organization that gives academic scholarships to the spouses and children of military and first responders who have been killed in action or been disabled.

Although Skenes does his best to keep his disciplined attitude in public, his teammate, LSU catcher Alex Milazzo, knows him to be a goofball.

“He’s super mentally locked in and super competitive when he’s pitching, but when he’s not pitching, what y’all might not see is the goofy side of him,” Milazzo said. “He’s a six-foot-eight child. I love catching for him. I love how competitive he is and I love him as a teammate.”

Another side of Skenes outside of his soldier persona is his trash talk. Skenes once said, “he didn’t think Texas A&M’s crowd was that loud.”

During a press conference on April 19 previewing the Ole Miss series, he said he doesn’t think Ole Miss fans will have many chances to throw beers in celebrations this weekend, a traditional celebration that fans in right field bleachers at Swayze Field do whenever Ole Miss hits a home run. However, Skenes thought the tradition “was cool.”

Since he’s been at LSU he has had opposing fans and players chirp at him, something he didn’t experience at Air Force.

One notable case of this was against Kentucky on April 13 when some of Kentucky’s players were chirping at him. After he struck out a Kentucky batter one time, he stared directly at Kentucky’s dugout with vitriol. The umpire had to take him to the side after the inning to tell him to not look at Kentucky’s dugout anymore.

This will be Skenes’ only year at LSU as he is the No.2 overall prospect for the 2023 MLB Draft where he is projected to be drafted by the Washington Nationals.

“I hope people really appreciate what they’re watching because that (talent) doesn’t show up in college baseball anymore,” said LSU head coach Jay Johnson during a press conference after Skenes’ 13-strikeout performance in LSU’s 16-6 victory over Kentucky on April 13.

Johnson is right. There may be another pitcher like Skenes that will don the purple and gold.